Actress Nicole Maines (R) and Wayne Maines attend the 27th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., on April 2, 2016.
Frazer Harrison—Getty Images for GLAAD
April 26, 2016 10:00 AM EDT
Wayne Maines' family is featured in the book Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of An American Family.

It is natural to fear things we do not understand. But how we react to those fears is critical. The North Carolina legislators who passed the recent anti-LGBT law, which prevents cities and counties from passing anti-discrimination laws and from allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the sex they identify as, reacted in a defensive, damaging manner.

Transgender people are your friends, neighbors and co-workers. All they want to do is live their lives in peace and harmony. Because of fear they can no longer do so in North Carolina.

Watching the debate in Raleigh was devastating. I wanted to be there to tell them the severe effects of their decision. I cringed as poised and articulate state senators built their case for fear. I experienced painful flashbacks as I witnessed a young transgender boy bravely speak out, only to be brushed aside and told his pain and real fears were not significant.

I have heard this rhetoric before, in Maine five years ago. The bill was called LD 1046. This bill forced me to face my own fears. I broke my silence and told our state and the nation how wrong I was to doubt my transgender child. I explained that watching her grow forced me to muster the courage to let go of some of the fears I thought to be true. As I listened to our state leaders debate the future of my child, I realized the power that our legislatures hold and how their fears could reach beyond our home and state. I could anticipate the effect of their actions as they unknowingly pushed to destroy children’s lives, sending families into hiding, to a world that tells our children they are not worthy of equal rights and a bright future.

Read a piece from Wayne’s daughter, Nicole Maines: I Am Proof That Bathrooms Should Be Gender-Free

As parents, we have been placed on this earth to help our children grow and be safe. Our primal instincts are to fight to protect our young. Our leaders’ unfounded fears are pushing them to do the same. I wish they knew what thousands of other families with transgender children know. I wonder if they realize how often we have to uproot our families to keep our children safe. Families in North Carolina may have to leave the state to protect their children, leaving behind family and friends.

America needs to understand what it means to raise a transgender child. I would tell them how much I struggled to accept that my son was really my daughter. I know that some people will think I must be crazy, but watching my child grow taught me that gender identity is real. It is in our brains and our souls. Since the age of 5, Nicole encouraged me to open my eyes and heart to new ideas. I’ve watched her experience severe emotional pain and physical frustration. When we let her be who she is, she was for the first time a happy, healthy and confident child.

Adults debating and voting on these bills must dig deeper before they take action. They must be real leaders. Much of what I thought made me a good leader was passed on from my father who told me: “Be a man, walk tall, and show no fear.” Throughout adolescence and young adulthood, I was confident that these core beliefs made me the type of leader that would help my family grow and prosper. But I was wrong, and I needed to change.

Change itself did not surprise me. What surprised me was the extreme level courage I needed to really accomplish the difficult soul-searching change that allowed me to become a better person, a better man and hopefully a leader who might change the world in some small way.

Last year while traveling on the Penobscot River in Maine, a bald eagle soared over my head. Eagles are symbols of freedom. They almost vanished from our landscape, only to return because people had the courage to enact laws to protect them. Laws are the foundation blocks for keeping our country safe and for protecting everyone we love and cherish. If we do not work to protect all Americans, our children may begin to forget what real freedom is and how important it is to fight to protect our freedom.

I am very upset that good Americans fall prey to the belief that transgender people place others in danger in the restroom. I wish they would listen instead to the real fears transgender people face. Nicole was 13-years-old the first time she read the name of someone like her who had been killed for being transgender. I could not stop thinking that it could be her name on that list. No parent should have to see their child’s name on such a list.

It takes real courage to lead, to listen and to learn new things. I was so proud of our leaders in Augusta, Maine, when they voted no to bathroom fears and told the world that in Maine everyone is equal. Many were uncomfortable, and a few were afraid, but these open-minded Mainers did the right thing. I hope that others across the nation will have the courage to listen and do the same.

Transgender people’s strength under adversity demonstrates a new type of courage. Helping our nation get beyond bathroom fears will take a new type of courage. I hope that more people reach out to transgender people in their communities. It will help them understand that the fears presented at that North Carolina hearing are not true, and that if we address our fears, we will grow and be able to provide a better future for all Americans.

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